Review Summary: Open blinds for light
The 2016 debut of Jay Som (aka Melina Duterte), Turn Into
, was a pleasant if not fully realized effort. A re-release of nine tracks that Duterte drunkenly uploaded to Bandcamp, the record is fuzzy, earnest, and surprisingly assured given its humble digital beginnings. Though the album is repetitive in mood and sound (fuzzy and drenched in reverb), it serves as a promising and satisfying debut. But Turn Into
was the setup. Everybody Works
is the punchline.
From the opening notes of “Lipstick Stains”, it’s clear that Duterte is stretching herself toward new horizons. Turn Into
’s urgency is forgotten as lightly hammered piano notes and fingerpicked guitar shimmer, eventually supported by a swell of synth and horn sounds, over which Duterte whispers an intimate paean
I like the way your lipstick stains the corners of my mouth
I pray it lasts a while
This tension between lyrical vulnerability and expansive sounds reoccurs throughout the record. In “The Bus Song”, Duterte coos “I just want you to lead me/And I just want you to need me” over an almost raucous arrangement of piano and horns, with a big fat guitar centered in the mix. “Baybee” couples utterly naked lines like “You shave at parts of me I must erase” with a groovy, sensual bassline, muted guitar, and fluid synths. The somber “Bedhead” progresses from a hypnotic drone through an optimistic, urgent guitar passage before returning to a distorted buzz as Duterte mutters “I bury my stutter”. The tension cuts, balances, tempering the album’s most ebullient moments and driving the most melancholy.
is a dream pop record so the requisite reverb, repetition, and sheen are present in spades. The glisten of “Lipstick Stains” and atmospheric longing of “Remains” will satisfy any Cocteau Twins fan. But a delicate and detailed understanding of melody and hooks shine through the dreaminess of Everybody Works
. Some of the record’s most striking moments (the soaring chorus and joyous coda in “The Bus Song”, the resolution of the atonal guitar solo in “One Billion Dogs”, the skittering guitar line over the chorus of the title track) occur when Duterte allows simple, tasteful melodies to burst above her busy, atmospheric arrangements.
“For Light”, the closer, is Everybody Work
’s crowning achievement. Over the song’s seven minutes, Duterte builds a maelstrom of upwardly straining horns, voices, and glockenspiel, all anchored by a steady guitar strum. The song begins to feel like a hymn or meditation, as multiple vocal lines, out of phase with each other, call and respond. The section ends abruptly, as though it’s been exhausted by its own expansion. We are ushered out by an echoing guitar line reminiscent of “Shedding Blue” by maudlin of the Well, weirdly enough. The last lines of the record stick in one’s head:
I’ll be right on time
Open blinds for light
Won’t forget to climb
These are promises, ones that Melina Duterte intends to keep. Given the success of Everybody Work
’s balance of hooks, soundscape, and melancholy, I have no doubt that she will.